Ordinance On Backyard Chickens To Be Voted On December 7th

An ordinance that would allow residents to have backyard chickens in the borough was tabled unanimously at the November 16th Mayor & Council meeting. The major reason for the postponement was to allow the borough’s health inspector to provide a formal opinion on keeping chickens on private property.

The ordinance itself is a result of resident Arnulfo Toro, who lives on Bender Avenue, requesting that council enact a law that would make owning chickens legal in the borough. Currently, Roselle Park Borough Code Book Section BH:5-48 prohibits chickens, duck, geese, and other fowl. Arnulfo was issued a summons earlier this year when the code enforcement officer was notified that he had hens in his backyard. That warning/summons along with any subsequent consequences is postponed until the ordinance is voted on and either approved or defeated.

One of the main issues with the long-term effects of the ordinance is the lack of hands-on maintenance and oversight that would be needed to make the law a success. This problem has been most recently seen in the borough’s TNR – or trap-neuter-release – ordinance. In May of 2014, Ordinance 2403, “An Ordinance Permitting The Managed Care Of Feral Cats An The Borough Of Roselle Park” was passed by council unanimously. This law made Roselle Park the first municipality in Union County to have a Trap-Neuter-Return policy. It set forth policies and procedures including (1) the filing of written reports on the annual conditions of colonies, (2) required training of registered caregivers, (3) notification of all properties within two-square blocks of the colony and (4) annual registration of each colony.

To date, within the past three years, the number of such feral colony applications submitted to the municipality – according to the borough clerk’s office – has been zero. Additionally, the ordinance was to be reviewed within six months to see its progress. No such review has ever been formally conducted.

Three years later, there still exists a feral cat problem in the borough and the law enacted to remedy it has done nothing to neither address nor alleviate it.

It appears that such a well-intentioned measure is being considered by the governing body again with allowing backyard hens on people’s private property but the long-term impact on the community expressed by three residents – one of them being the former code enforcement officer – at the last municipal meeting postponed the vote.

The Borough

At the November 16th Mayor & Council meeting, resident Dave Robertson reiterated a previous request that expert testimony be provided before voting on the proposed law. He added, “I doubt that any borough official or member of the board of health are well-versed in the keeping of livestock in a confined space. To date, all reliance on this issue has been taken from the individual seeking permission to keep livestock, and while he’s done an admirable job, I don’t think our borough and county officials are well-versed in this area.”

He concluded by saying, “This ordinance has been crafted for just one resident of the borough. I applaud his effort and his research. He’s done an excellent job . . . But this opens the door for other flocks or even requests for other livestock exemptions . . . Should those requests come in, I rather doubt that they will have done as much in terms of preparation and due diligence. Therefore, I would urge all the members of this council to vote ‘no’ on the final adoption of this [ordinance].”

Former code enforcement officer Carl Pluchino spoke on whether council considered long-term issues such as the peace & good order ordinance with chicken noises. He also stated, “Everybody is supposed to take care of their place. You have a set amount of inspections throughout the year to check these coops but people, after a while, they get complacent. They don’t take care of things like they should, and eventually, this could turn out to be a real catastrophe.”

“To appease one guy who should have gone to the zoning board, commented Mr. Pluchino, “Like when I sat up there . . . on the Land Use Board, a woman came in, and she wanted to have a little piglet.  She proved her point, and she went through the process. Why are we bending backward for someone to have what he wants only because he – basically – broke the law and he didn’t want to go through the process? If he wants it bad enough, let him go through the process. Just don’t drop it down for everyone to have it now. I think this is going to be a problem, myself. That’s my own opinion.”

Borough Attorney Richard Huxford clarified Mr. Pluchino’s comment by addressing Mayor Carl Hokanson, “Mayor, the only thing I would add to that is, there is a process. There’s a process [where] they go to the Land Use Board, but there’s also the process that someone can position the council to ask for a change in the law and that’s what this gentleman did. He asked you to change the law as-is. You’ve undertaken that.”

Mr. Huxford added that since the governing body was looking into the matter of the summonses that were originally issued to Mr. Toro, “It was recommended that code enforcement put an abeyance until the mayor and council decide what they’re going to do. If the ordinance isn’t passed, then, presumably, code enforcement would look into any type of violation or the board of health will. If it is passed, then the law’s changed. So while Mr. Pluchino’s correct, there is a possibility of getting approval through the land use board. There also is this process which this gentleman has undertaken, and that council’s undertaken to review this type of order.”

Before the vote, there was discussion from council. First Ward Councilman Eugene Meola stated, “The individual that came to me with this request, at first I was very leery about it and I contacted a few people in the neighborhood [who] told me that there wasn’t going to be any issue about it . . . I spoke to a few animal control people and they said that chickens were self-cleaning and they are very clean animals and with hand sanitizer, it all works out fine.”

The councilman referred to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report that was brought up at a previous meeting, adding that the provision for hand sanitizers was included in the ordinance to address that report. He continued, “We took so many steps to put in there. These amendments I have no issue with [them] . . . The rest of council also came and I sat in this man’s backyard trying to hear something out of these chickens . . . and I couldn’t find any.”

Four Ward Councilman Thomas ‘Thos’ Shipley added to the discussion by stating “While I do understand that the gentleman who started this, his situation is exemplary in terms of what he’s done . . . for me, in light of some of the things that have been brought up I do have some questions . . . There are some things that have been brought up that are not covered in this ordinance, and it leaves me with some concerns because there’s his particular situation . . . . but also looking at who’s going to really [make] sure that these other things are enforced because it’s true others don’t do nearly as good a job.”

After instruction from the borough clerk on procedure, council voted to table the ordinance.

The Board Of Health

The Westfield Board Of Health, the agency that handles the health inspections and health department duties of eight municipalities including Roselle Park, was reached for information on backyard chickens in other towns that it covers. According to Health Inspector Megan Avallone, Roselle Park will be the only municipality that will have an active chicken ordinance on the books. None of the other seven towns – Chatham Borough, Fanwood, Garwood, Mountainside, New Providence, Summit, and Westfield – have proposed a backyard chicken ordinance nor have any chicken inspections been conducted in those towns in this decade.

In reviewing the towns under Westfield’s jurisdiction, Fanwood and Garwood explicitly prohibit the keeping of chickens. Chatham Borough prohibits chickens, providing exemptions for educational purposes (only for six months) and to businesses that sell live fowl to the public (286-2 Keeping of live chickens and roosters prohibited; exemptions). Only New Providence has a law that allows for livestock, wild or exotic animals (including fowl). Code § 333-162 has 12 strict requirements which are:

  1. The consistency and acceptability of local zoning regulations regarding property use.
  2. The kind and number of animals or fowl the permit is to cover.
  3. Proof that each animal has been appropriately vaccinated.
  4. The location of the premises where such animal or fowl will be kept.
  5. Plot plan of the premises and structures provided for the care and maintenance of the animals or fowl.
  6. A list and plan of all abutting properties and those within 250 feet by type and relationship to that of the applicant.
  7. A plan for containment of fecal matter and food, water supply and methods of waste control and disposal.
  8. A signed statement by the applicant acknowledging the permit may be revoked or the animals or fowl removed, through termination of the permit at any time for good cause by the Board of Health, if a public health nuisance, as declared by the Board of Health, is caused by said animals or fowl.
  9. A complete statement of plan and intent, as set forth in the application presented by the applicant to the owners of all abutting properties and those within 250 feet. The owners of abutting properties must be given notice and an opportunity to declare their objection to the issuance of a permit at a public meeting scheduled by the Board of Health.
  10. The holder of a permit shall comply with all state, county and local laws, ordinances, and regulations.
  11. A copy of the required New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection permit for wild and exotic animals where applicable.
  12. Any such other information as the Board of Health may require.

Concerning her position on the ordinance, Ms. Avallone remarked, “I’m indifferent one way or the other professionally just as long as there are stipulations in effect to make sure that residents who choose to do this do it in a sanitary and safe manner. Because there are risks, just like any animal that you have. There are certainly risks to increased infections, salmonella, and other bacteria when handling chickens.”

As it stands, the original ordinance (included below) has two changes made upon recommendation of the health inspector. The first, under section 8.3, deals with how feed is to be thrown. Section 8.5.c, asks for joint inspections by the health officer and the code enforcement officer.

The Toro Family

Roselle Park News spoke with both neighbors at the core of this particular issue. Arnulfo Toro who has the chickens and Sal Saluccio and his wife Katie, who are the neighbors behind the Toro family.

When asked about how the issue with the ordinance started for him Arnulfo stated, “I didn’t know about the Land Use Board as an option because I was new to this . . . I never saw an actual ordinance against it . . . I called the borough, and whoever answered at the time, I believe it was a woman, she was like ‘There was a person about a year or two ago inquiring about the same thing’ but she wasn’t able to help me any further than that. She wasn’t able to provide me or lead somewhere to where I could actually get a written ordinance against chickens.”

That’s when Arnulfo said that he found Roselle’s ordinance on chickens. Below are the two codes found in the Brough of Roselle’s book of laws:

§ 125-43 License required for domestic use; fee.
No person shall keep chickens, ducks, geese or other fowl or fur-bearing animals without first obtaining a license to do so. The license fee for same shall be $2.

§ 125-42 Rules and regulations for domestic use.
Chickens, ducks, geese or other fowl or fur-bearing animals shall not be kept for domestic use unless the following rules and regulations are strictly adhered to:

  1. Such fowl or animal shall not be allowed to fly or run at large but shall be confined in a suitable house or coop with an enclosed runway, except carrier pigeons, for which a permit to fly must be obtained.

  2. No part of such coop, house or runway shall be less than 10 feet from all neighboring property lines nor 35 feet from the doors or windows of any building occupied by human beings, whether for dwelling or business purposes, provided that poultry kept temporarily in markets may be kept under the conditions hereinbefore specified.

  3. No more than 25 fowl or animals above referred to shall be kept at any time unless the lot on which such fowl are kept contains at least two acres of land. This restriction shall not apply, however, if such fowl or animals are kept not nearer than 300 feet from a dwelling house or occupied building exclusive of that of the keeper of such fowl.

  4. No crowing fowl shall be kept at anytime within the borough.

“I pretty much used Roselle’s [provision] as a guide for myself,” remarked Arnulfo, “[So] I could show firsthand to everybody that this works because I knew this was such a controversial issue – backyard chickens – and they’ve been given such a bad wrap for so long that if I didn’t do this . . . it was going to be impossible for me just prove by just word of mouth or by literature.”

Addressing the crafting of the proposed law, Arnulfo said, “I based it under Roselle’s ordinance as a guideline for myself and then [council] added some parts . . . All these misconceptions and myths behind chickens are simply false. We have been so disconnected from this for too long that we think about chickens in farms being dirty and stinky and spreading diseases, but it’s actually the opposite.”

About concerns about the potential spread of diseases, Arnulfo responded, “I’ve got daughters of my own, and I wouldn’t risk their health or well-being. I really have no concerns about anybody getting sick with their own backyard chickens . . . It’ s common sense. You don’t want to go pick up any poop – whether it’s your dog’s or cat’s or your chicken’s or your own – and not wash your hands. If you use a little bit of common sense, the risks of getting any infections or sick from anything like that is close to none. Statistically speaking, you’ve got more chances of getting hit by lightning than getting sick from your own family flock.”

Asked about the future of the ordinance with others who might not have the same diligence or knowledge as he has Arnulfo offered, “I am definitely willing to volunteer as an advisor for anybody [who] might qualify to even get backyard chickens after they read the ordinance. I’m willing to serve as an advisor and to express and to inform them and to share the best ways of going about it, the best way to make it easier to take care of your birds, to make it more automated . . . I want to show people exactly the best way to raise your chickens and have it be [in] a safe environment for yourself and for everybody and utilize these birds the way they should be. Not just for eggs  but the way you can safely compost their manure to create soil [and] all those things.”

In closing, Arnulfo talked about his hope for the ordinance, “This four-year experiment was never about me . . . Ultimately, this was going to be a much more important issue that I was going to bring forward to the whole community. But, at this point, with all the information that I’ve provided [and] everything that I have shown firsthand; if for some reason, they allow a handful of people basing their opinions on lack of information and misinformation, I’m going to be quite discouraged . . . But it doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop because I feel that this is so important, not just for our community but for our country [and] our world. This is a fight that’s worth fighting until people realize that this is something that’s really great.”

The Saluccio Family

Sal and Katie talked about the points that Sal made at the public hearing for the ordinance as well as on social media. He reiterated, “The ordinance is really just a cover-up for [the] mistake that he made with not initially getting the ordinance passed before just getting the chickens in. He knew . . . there [were] no chickens allowed and then what he did was he got them anyway and then once he got caught, now – all of a sudden, we’ve [council’s] got to craft this ordinance for him.”

Sal recounted how he became aware of the chickens, “I started hearing some chicken noises, and then before that, I was seeing a lot of these weird animals coming through. A lot of cats coming through, a lot of mice coming through, a lot of possums coming through, and there really wasn’t that much of that going around here, but it really started [to] build up. Usually, they come out at night. I was sitting in the yard during the day and seeing rats going to the fence.”

Katie added, “It is kind of rewarding someone for doing wrong. Laws and ordinances are there to follow. So if I do something wrong and maybe I don’t want to get a fine or something I’m just going to look to the council and try to get that changed so I could be a free bird.”

When asked if the law allowing backyard hens had been in place when they moved in, would they have had a problem with it, Sal responded, “I wouldn’t have an issue with it, but if I saw someone has a farm next to me, I’d say I’m not moving here because when we were looking for houses we were driving around, and I saw an ear of corn and I said ‘We’re not living here. I’m not living on a farm. I want to live in the city. I don’t want to live by a farm. Our properties are not even built for a farm.”

Katie expressed her concerns regarding the proposed law and the vigilance needed to maintain standards, “Chickens do carry a lot of different diseases and when you talk about inspections and you talk about the board of health person coming from Westfield, you talk about that's going to be coming along . . . are they versed enough to find out if these birds are sick? Are they going to be able to tell? If Roselle Park wants to be involved and wants to do it the right way, we need to get experts in here to see whether or not these chickens are safe to even be there."

As the conversation ended, the question was posed about what, if anything, could be addressed in the ordinance that would make them feel better. Sal remarked, "You can say whatever you want. I don't want it to pass . . . As long as there's a chicken back there, I'm not happy with it."

Katie said, "I think definitely the inspection aspect [of it]. It's affecting our family. This wasn't our decision; this is being brought upon us. And we actually do like the town, and we do love the schools . . . We love our street. This is our opinion, and everybody has the right to their opinion, and we felt that this was a strong issue for us especially because we live behind them and we didn’t come to the town thinking there [were] chickens here. We didn't even know this was going to happen."

December 7, 2017

There will be no additional public hearing on the ordinance on December 7th although a public comment portion before the vote will allow residents - for a maximum of seven minutes - to comment and ask questions of the governing body. After the first general public comment portion, council is set to vote on the ordinance.

Thursday night's meeting is scheduled to start a 7 p.m. at the Roselle Park Municipal Complex located at 110 East Westfield Avenue.